European Influence Over India
The period from 1707AD, the year when Aurangzeb died, to 1857, the
year of the Indian Uprising, saw the gradual increase of the European
influence in India. The Europeans had been filtering into India for a
long time before they actually decided to set up shop here. Even
though the British got away with the jackpot, the real pioneers to
reach India were the Portuguese.
Full of crusading and commercial zeal, Vasco da Gama was the first
known European to reach India in 1498, even before the Mughals arrived
here. When Vasco da Gama docked his ship in Calicut, he announced that
he came in search of "Christians and spices" and the very
first people he met here were Christians, who were descendants of
those who had settled in India way back in the 4th century
Religious fervor forgotten, the Portuguese eventually settled down to
a very prosperous trade in spices with India. The Muslim rulers in
Delhi and then the Mughals never really warmed up to the idea of a
foreign power continuing trade on the seas under their imperial noses.
What's more, they were not exactly very honest traders too, since they
thought that no word that was given to an infidel need be kept. So
much so that the word phirangi, or foreigner in colloquial, came to be
a hissing and a byword among locals. In fact in Goa, where the
Portuguese ruled, intolerance levels ran high and even the building of
Hindu temples was banned.
Alberquerque (1509-1515), who was the second Portugese viceroy in
India, encouraged mixed marriages with the sole object of creating a
mixed race who were Portuguese Catholics, and who would be bound by
race and culture to the Portuguese. They were known as Luso-Indians at
one time and now simply as Goans. One of main reasons why Portugal was
never able to go anywhere further than Goa was that Spain took over
the country in 1580AD.
Advent of Dutch
The Dutch came shipping in the East for the first time in 1595.
However, they did not come to India initially, and established
themselves at the helm of things in the spice trade in Jakarta. India
came into the picture for them purely as a route to Europe, as part of
a great Asian trade route that they developed which went through
Ceylon and Cape Town.
Although the Dutch had their factories dotting all over (in Cochin,
Nagapatam and even up in Agra) they did not attempt to gain military
power, being quite content to gain in cash.
Although the French King Loius XII had granted letters of monopoly to
French traders in 1611, it wasn't until December 1667 that a
French company was actually set up in India. This was at Surat (in
Gujrat) with Francis Caron as its Director-General. Soon, in 1669,
another French company came up in Masulipatnam, thanks to a grant by
the king of Golconda which exempted the French from paying import and
export duty. In 1672, Caron's place was taken by Francis Martin, who
is regarded as the real founder of the French.
English Formed East India Company
The English formed their East India Company on the last day of 1600
and entered the East Indies hand in hand with the Dutch. Their foes
were common - the Portuguese and Catholic Spain - and this
brought them closer. However, familiarity breeds contempt, and soon
the English realized that the Dutch were not willing to share their
space in Spice Islands (East Indies) with them.
Things became grim enough for the British to finally run away and
find refuge in India. It was this success of the Dutch to hang on,
with characteristic tenaciousness to the Spice Islands that finally
made the British to settle on India as the second-best; because spices
in India were essentially only in the south where the local rulers and
other Europeans already had a monopoly.
of course, they ran into trouble in their very first step, so to
speak, with the Portuguese. However, here the British luck turned;
perhaps the Raj was destined, after all. As said earlier, the
Portuguese were not winning any popularity contests in India, and then
with Spain coming into the scene they were hard pressed for resources.
Finally what won the east was that old trump card of the British,
their naval supremacy.
In 1612 the Mughal emperor Jahangir received Sir Thomas Roe, the
first ambassador of the British to Indian aristocracy. Roe's
diplomacy with the Mughals was so successful that by a treaty in 1618
the East India Company became their unspoken, unsaid, naval aide. By
1674 Bombay came to the British as part of the dowry of Charles II's
Portuguese queen Catherine, and from here they never looked back. 1708
or the dawn of the Modern Indian Era found them quite comfortably
placed in India, commercially that is.
Declining of Mughal Regime
Post Aurangzeb the decline of the Mughals was shockingly swift (See
Indian History). A confused state of affairs reigned supreme
in India before the British finally took control. It is hardly
surprising that the more insular Brits thought it was their divine
right or the Whiteman's burden to set the house in order for the
natives who seemed to be their own worst enemies.
Powerful nobility was ruling the day at the Mughal court whose
grandiose and power had fallen into disarray and disgrace. Nautch
girls, poetry and wine flowed; unfortunately so did the gold from the
coffers of the treasury. Clearly it was that twilight zone; when
dynasties just linger on for want of anything or anyone better.
Invasion of Nadir Shah
Then there were the inevitable, though disastrous, invasions. The
first of these was led by the famous Persian king Nadir Shah in 1739.
At this time the court in Delhi was busy fighting the Marathas and one
of their best generals, Nizam-ul-Mulk was in war against them.
Nizam met Nadir when the latter arrived near Delhi and succeeded in
changing his mind about sacking Delhi by offering him a booty of Rs
50,00,000. However, here again court politics had the upper hand; one
of Nizam's rival generals convinced Nadir he was settling for too
little and the fabulous riches of Delhi were to be seen to be
believed. So Nadir marched over to Delhi in time to have a khutba read
in his name. Unfortunately, around this time a rumour started doing
the rounds that Nadir was dead, which was not only celebrated by the
inhabitants of Delhi, but everyone got bold enough to actually attack
a few Iranian soldiers.
The result was that on March 11, 1739 an order went forth from Nadir
Shah, and yet another one of those terrible massacres that Delhi was a
regular witness to took place. The areas of Chandini Chowk, the fruit
market, the Dariba bazaar and the buildings around Jama Masjid were
burnt to cinders. Each and every inhabitant of the area was killed as
an example. The people of Delhi will still point at the Khooni Darwaza
(Blood Gate) in the old city and tell you about the massacre which
happened here as if it were only yesterday. The royal treasury was
sacked and its contents seized. When Nadir Shah left Delhi after 57
days of staying here, he also took along the fabulous Peacock Throne
of the Mughals with him. and along with it also the final vestiges of
the Mughal pride.
Afghans Invaded Delhi With Ahmad Shah Abdali
The next invasion that rocked Delhi was led by the Afghans, with
Ahmad Shah Abdali, an ex-general of the same Nadir Shah, as their
commander. Abdali led as many as seven invasions into India between
After the plundering that Delhi received by Nadir Shah, the Mughals
seemed to have just given up. Abdali was all over the place ransacking
Lahore, Punjab and so on, but it seemed like the Delhi court couldn't
care less. It was left to the powers-that-be, the Marathas, to face
the Abdali challenge. He promptly reduced the Marathas to the
powers-that-had-been in the third and final battle of Panipat on
January 13, 1761.
That was one of the reasons why the British found India completely at
a loose end when they came here - most of the rising powers had
been ground to dust by invading armies before they could amount to
Abdali Captured Delhi
In January 1757 a carnage of the Nadir Shah vintage was repeated.
After pillaging Delhi the Afghans marched on to overrun most of
Northern India. It is said that following the ransacking of the cities
of Mathura, Brindaban and Gokul, for 'seven days the waters of the
Jamuna flowed of a blood-red colour.'
An outbreak of cholera in his army forced Adbali to withdraw; but not
before he had made the Delhi court cough up around 120,000,000 rupees
(that the Delhi court still had that kind of money speaks for the
unbelievable riches which the Mughals once commanded). Also he
demanded, and got, Kashmir, Lahore, Sirhind and Multan. This was
unfortunately not the last time that Abdali invaded India.
It was left to the powers-that-be, the Marathas, to face the next
Abdali challenge. Seeing the ruins of a powerful kingdom and the
immense riches that Hindustan had in its womb in Delhi, Abdali
thundered in again. On January 13, 1761, he took on the Maratha
confederation under Bhao Rao, promptly reducing them to the
powers-that-had-been in the third and final battle of Panipat. This
was the end of the Maratha power in the north, for they stayed away
for the next 10 years.
Abdali returned in 1764, driven once again by a hunger not for power
but for gold. His sixth invasion had the Sikhs (who had by then carved
out a kingdom under the famous Maharaja Ranjit Singh) up in arms. The
determined Sikh power had put up a stiff challenge not only for
Abdali, but were the main reason why the Marathas were never able to
be very successful up north. When Abdali invaded India for the last
time in 1767, they managed to inflict defeat on him and the Sikhs took
Lahore and Central Punjab. However the areas from Peshwar up remained
It was an India exhausted with war and battle; an India badly in
need, and indeed glad, of someone who could take charge. She had gone
around a circle in the cycle of history. It was a great leap too -
from the cultured, sophisticated and erudite civilisation under the
Mughals to the power hungry and superstitious dark ages of the late 18th
and 19th century. The status of women in society fell like
never before: Huge weddings which were a drain to the bride's family
took place; oppression reared its nasty head in the form of a rigid
caste system (even with the Muslims); and Sati, the Rajput ritual of a
widow being cremated with her dead husband, and so on which were never
a part of Indian 'culture' became so now.
No, we were not putting on out best faces for the phirangis.
British Rises To Power
Against this troubled backdrop the British rise to power was slow,
but remarkably steady. Slow because the path was far from smooth;
first there were the French to deal with. The commercial rivalry that
cropped up with such a vengeance amongst the British and the French
had roots in the prevailing political situation in Europe, and even
then as long as the French carried on business in a small way in India
the British left them to themselves.
The real trouble started between 1720 and 1740, when the French
company's trade with India increased by about ten-fold to come up to
half the volume that the English company was generating at that time.
Now the stakes were just too much for each to ignore the other -
especially taking in the factor that this Indian trade amounted for
more than ten percent of Mother England's revenue.
This was the time when the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48) had
broken out in Europe, following Fredrick the Great of Prussia's
seizure of Silesia in 1740. The French and British found themselves in
opposing camps in this war. Later, during the Seven Years War too
(1756-63) both were at loggerheads with each other, supporting rival
camps. These two wars of Europe, by Europe and for Europe in the end
totally changed the balance of power as India knew it.
The War Between French and English Arose
Between 1746-48 the French and English finally came to blows in the
first Carnatic War (1746-48) in the Deccan. There were two more of
these skirmishes and they were to seal the fate of the French company
as far as India was concerned. The first Carnatic War was merely an
echo of the Austrian War of Succession as said earlier. The fight was
over Madras and though the French captured it, it was given back to
the English as part of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748.
What had happened in the meanwhile was that the British and the
French had got their fleets upto the Indian mainland, an important
development as the balance of power was now shifting fast in the favor
of the Europeans. and Dupleix, the French governor of the time,
decided that this power could be used to gain a support base within
Dupleix The French Governor
Dupleix was a very shrewd and resourceful character, with great
diplomatic skills, and his understanding of local politics was
formidable, though flawed by a hyper temperament which made him
extremely difficult to work with. The perfect opportunity came in 1748
when the Nawab of Arcot (in present Tamil Nadu) died and the question
of who would succeed him arose.
Dupleix was so successful in his intrigue that he succeeded in
enthroning a Nizam of his choice, Chanda Sahib. The new Nizam was
supported by the old Nawab's grandson Muzzafar Jung and backed up by
French troops under the able command of De Bussy.
The idea was to close in on Madras by surrounding it with French
territory. The plan would have developed pretty neatly but for Robert
Clive, sent away to Madras by his family to become a clerk, who turned
out to be a brilliant strategist.
His seizure of Arcot in 1751 with a mere 210 men upset all of
Dupleix's subtle strategies. Chanda Sahib was killed and a British
nominee was put on the Arcot throne. Two years later Dupleix was
recalled to France.
Dupleix was succeeded by Godeheu, who sued for peace with the
British. By the new treaty both the French and the British agreed not
to interfere in Indian internal matters and went back to their old
positions. But though the British got a town the French agreed to give
up everything they had taken so far. Godeheu was denounced for having
"signed the ruin of the country and the dishonor of the nation,"
but the damage was done. The British emerged much stronger after the
second Carnatic War.
The third and final phase of this Anglo-French war for supremacy was
brought on by the Seven Years War in the shape of the third Carnatic
War (1756-63). However, despite some heroics by French generals like
De Bussy and Lally, the British were able to decisively beat the
French who eventually lost practically everything they had in India.
With the close of the third Carnatic War, the French were finished as
far as India was concerned. Thanks to their superior sea-power,
greater resources and steadier support from Europe, the English were
able to vanquish the dream of dominion de l'empire de la France in
The Revolt of 1857
Since then the story of the British rise to power in India became
sort of predictable. Except for one small hiccup in 1857 during the
Indian Uprising. Debate has continued and will always go on about
whether 1857 was actually the first Indian War of Independence or
simply a mutiny. Well, a little of both, we conclude. It was far too
limited in its scope and aims to be dignified as the first Indian War
of Independence; but nor was it that restricted that one can dismiss
it as just a mutiny.
There is enough evidence to support the fact that the Uprising had
been planned for months before the actual outbreak. What the
revolutionaries did, apart from the fact that they failed to spread
the word beyond Central India and Delhi, was that the Uprising did not
go according to plan. It broke out before the appointed date; if D-day
had gone according to schedule the Uprising would have broken out in
many areas simultaneously, and then it would have been very difficult
for the British to control it. However, as things were, trouble broke
out sporadically in various places in May 1857 and there was little,
if any, co-ordination about the whole thing. So, the British were able
to curb it with relative ease.
Cultural Revolution In Progress
For a long time before 1857, a cultural revolution had been in
progress in Indian society. As a result of this Sati was banned, new
religions like the Arya Samaj were formed, education for women was
encouraged and a whole new breed of intellectuals - mostly from
Bengal - came to the forefront.
This new breed of rich Indian was well-read and also well-travelled;
of course, this meant that a new age of political awareness was rising
out of the mists of the turmoil that had immediately preceded. As a
result the British, or rather an administrator called A O Hume,
convinced the then Governor General of India Lord Dufferin that it
might be profitable to have roughly a sort of His Majesty's opposition
comprising of Indian politicians in India who would advice the
Though Dufferin was not exactly convinced of what good the idea would
do, he okayed it and so in December 1885 the Indian National Union
(which would soon be renamed Indian National Congress) met in Bombay.
Seventy-two delegates came from different parts of India, and
presiding them was Dadabhai Naoroji, an eminent lawyer and political
Indian National Congress
So was born the party that must surely have given the British
government much cause to regret that they had ever thought it up at
all. For, much to the British government's chagrin, the Indian
National Congress took its job seriously. In its early phase, which is
called the phase of the Moderates (1885-1905), the Congress was
thoroughly loyal to the British.
Its members were British in all aspects except where it mattered the
most, in colour. They were a class of elite erudite men who were into
philosophy and intellectual discussions; the much more popular
'peoples' leaders' were to follow. Dadabhai Naoroji, the
most prominent among their leaders observed: "Let us speak out
like men and proclaim that we are loyal to the backbone; that we
understand the benefits the English rule has conferred upon us."
Understandably, the man on the road was hardly aware they were alive.
and nor, if their attitude is anything to go by, was the British
The Policies of British Government Leads To
In 1907 there was split in the Congress as those members who were
unsatisfied with the scheme of affairs under the Moderates, including
popular leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, parted
company with them. This hardly helped their cause because for the next
eight years the Congress, for all contents and purposes, went into
This was the time when extreme nationalists came into the scene,
especially after the controversial partition of Bengal into west and
east Bengal in 1905 by the highly unpopular and obnoxiously highhanded
Lord Curzon. The decision evoked sharp reactions from all over India
and there was violent agitation against it.
October 16, 1905, the day on which the partition came into effect,
was observed as a day of mourning and fasting throughout Bengal.
Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Nobel-laureate and writer, spoke out
against it through a passionate poem. This was the time when the
Swadeshi movement was first launched; that is, Indians burnt foreign
clothes, cigarettes, soap and anything made across the seas in huge
bonfires and turned to Indian made articles instead. Many factories
manufacturing indigenous clothes, textiles and whatever else was
required were set up. Lots of earnest young leaders of Bengal took up
the task of educating people. On August 15, 1906, a national council
of education was introduced under the educationist Aurobindo Ghose.
The government came down heavily on the demonstrations, choosing to
break up meetings, insult leaders and beat up peaceful protestors. In
1907, leaders Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh were deported from
the Punjab. In 1908, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested and sentenced to
six years imprisonment. Aurobindo Ghose was arrested, prosecuted and
though acquitted, chose to retire to Pondicherry.
The agitation to oppose the partition of Bengal (although the
partition was reverted in 1911) saw the coming of age of Indian
nationalism. India was together like never before and the country was
bristling with nationalistic fervor. However, the idea of independence
from the British was still not an option that nationalists were
Home Rule Movement Started
When Great Britain was deeply enmeshed in the World War I, India's
national movement though intermittent continued to throw up surprises.
One of them was the Home Rule Movement. In December 1915, Tilak, who
was one of the first nationalist leaders with a following and deep
understanding of the grassroots of India, voiced the thought of Home
Rule (instead of 'swadeshi', that being a word the British were
wary about). It was for the first time that someone had mentioned the
word Home Rule as being the goal for the Indian National Movement. On
April 28, 1916, the Home Rule League was set up with its headquarters
in Poona (Pune). Tilak went on a whirlwind tour of the country,
appealing to everybody to unite under the banner of Home Rule League.
Anne Besant of the Theosophical Society fame also assisted him in this
Under face of this attack, the government fell back to that old
reliable - stricter laws. Laws were formulated to prevent
agitations, to prevent 'undesirable aliens' from entering India,
propaganda came under government control, and so on.
The importance of the Home Rule movement was that for the first time
the independence of India came to be clearly the goal of the Indian
national movement. The public at large was first an audience and then
terrorist nationalists who bombed parliaments and blew up railways,
and they must have further scared the middle class away from the
movement. and history will tell you no movement for independence was
ever a success without the involvement of the bourgeoisie. So, while
the idea of freedom was gaining ground, the populace at large was not
and then, as Jawaharlal Nehru would later say, Gandhi came.
Suddenly everything changed. The man dressed in a dhoti, kurta and
pugri with a lathi in hand (initially) and mingled with elegantly
dressed British-Indian moderates. He was not a rabble-rouser; he would
have been loath to do a Demosthenes. Nor was he anyone's idea of a
charismatic leader. Just a short, thin, shrivelled man, with what
Sarojini Naidu called 'Mickey Mouse ears' and a twinkle in his
eyes. He talked of peace. of loving his enemies, not of bombs or
murders. of non-violence, ahimsa. That was his only weapon; and, as
the British were to find out to their expense, boy did it work!
When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi came back to India from South Africa
at the age of 49, he had already built a tremendous reputation for
himself as a political leader. Almost immediately upon docking in
Bombay, he was offered to lead the national Movement.
Gandhi, however, begged out, opting to travel and know the country
thoroughly first. The first causes he chose to associate with were
minor local affairs and it would almost seem that the nationalist
leaders of the time did not know what to think of this almost
too-mild, too-moral and too-impractical maverick.
During 1917-18, hectic political moves were being made by a worried
British government. One of the results of this was the Rowlatt Act
proposed by Justice Rowlatt. Among other things this act gave the
courts the right to try political cases without a jury and provincial
governments, apart from the centre, the power of internment without
trial. Gandhi, in his typical style, said that the Rowlatt Act raised
issues of trust and self-respect, and hence should be met by a moral
response in shape of a hartal, or a traditional Indian way of protest
involving cessation of activities for a day.
The Massacre At Jallianwallah Bagh
The flash-point came in Punjab. On April 12, 1919, General Dyer, who
had taken over the troops in Punjab the day before, prohibited all
meetings or gatherings. So of course a public meeting was announced to
be held the very next day, April 13, in Jallianwallah Bagh (a park
enclosed on all sides with only a single narrow entrance) at 4.30pm.
We all know what happened that day.
It has been repeated in emotion-charged words in books and in
poignant scenes in movies. That day 6000 to 10,000 people, including
women and children, were shot dead in that park as an example of what
happened to people who disobeyed the orders of the British Raj. In the
court martial which followed later, General Dyer coldly observed that
he had fired only 1600 rounds of ammunition on the crowd; that was
because that was all he had. He added that he would fired more if he
had so seen fit.
The brutality of the Jallianwallah Bagh tragedy shocked the country.
It also woke up the moderates.
What was more important was that it brought Gandhi out in the open.
The Beginning of Non Co-operation Movement
In 1920, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian National
Congress launched the first of his innovative movements of protest,
the Non Co-operation Movement. It involved surrender of all titles,
honorary offices and nominated posts in local bodies.
People stopped attending government functions and darbars. Parents
were requested to withdraw their children from government schools and
colleges. British courts and the army was boycotted. Indians were to
stand for elections to any government body or legislature. Ahimsa or
non-violence was to be observed strictly.
The hugeness of the idea of Non Co-operation amazed every political
leader in India, who started realising that Gandhi was not so meek
after all. The idea captured popular imagination and suddenly, in one
sweep, the National Movement was taken to every man on the street.
People came out in their thousands to support Gandhi and his
movement. The government machinery did not actually break down, but
came under visible strain.
Unfortunately, in the time when the movement was showing signs of
real success, an incident occurred in Chauri Chaura, in which a mob of
3000 people killed 25 policemen and one officer. Similar tragic events
had happened earlier on November 17, 1921, in Bombay and on January
13, 1922, in Madras. Gandhi, who was the last of the ethical political
leaders, immediately withdrew his movement. and got arrested in the
bargain, on March 13, 1922. However, the Mahatma did get his way, the
Rowlatt Act was repealed.
Gandhi was severely criticised almost everywhere for disassociating
himself from the Non Co-operation Movement; for certainly the moment
he went, so did the masses. This was not the first difference of
opinion that was to happen in the Congress about Gandhi's actions.
Many more such occasions were to crop up, though everyone invariably
gave in to the Mahatma. Gandhi was already the invisible ruler of the
A committee was set up in 1927 to review the status of Indian affairs
by the British government, under Sir John Simon. So far, so good.
However, the committee did not include even a single Indian, a
situation which convinced the Congress that action was called for.
This was time when young radicals like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash
Chandra Bose were insisting on total independence being the goal for
the Congress. The new Viceroy Lord Irwin had got the Labour government
in London to agree to a declaration that dominion status was the goal
of British policy and a round table conference was called to consider
the next step. After coming out one of his famous thinking breaks,
Gandhi was for the offer. But the mood in the country was totally
contrary to this. So rather than let the radical element take over,
Gandhi decided to control the situation by leading a non-violent
The Demand of Complete Independence - Purna Swaraj
At midnight, on December 31, 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the
Tricolor on the banks of the river Ravi in Punjab and the Congress
called for complete Independence, purna swaraj. January 26, 1930, was
declared as Independence Day. From February 14 to 16, 1930, the
Congress Working Committee met at Gandhi's famous ashram in Sabarmati
and vested Mahatma Gandhi with launching his Civil Disobedience
movement "at a time and place of his choice."
On February 27, the plan of agitation was announced. The entire
nation was in ferment. Everyone was waiting in eager suspense about
what would the Mahatma do next; none more than the British government,
though not so eagerly, one presumes.
On March 12, 1930, accompanied with 78 colleagues of the Sabarmati
Ashram, Mahatma Gandhi embarked on a 60-mile march to the sea coast of
Dandi. He intended to defy the Salt tax, paid indirectly by every
peasant. The first instinct of the government was to let him walk as
much as he wanted, and ignore him. However, the Gandhi magic worked.
Soon protests, hartals, processions were taking place all over India.
Gandhi was arrested on May 5, 1930, and his place was taken by Abbas
Tyabji as the leader of the movement. When Tyabji was arrested,
Sarojini Naidu, the famous nightingale of India, replaced him. All
over India, the mood was ablaze, the atmosphere tense and the people
were on the streets. Louis Fischer wrote about the Civil Disobedience:
"The British beat the Indians with batons and rifle butts. The
Indians neither cringed nor complained nor retreated. That made
England powerless and India invincible."
First Round Table Conference
When the first Round Table Conference was held in London from
November 12, 1930 to January 19, 1931, it turned into a failure for
not a single Congressman attended. The British now appealed to the
Congress to work with them. Lord Irwin also declared that Mahatma
Gandhi and the other members of the Congress Working Committee would
be freed soon to consider the matter "freely and fearlessly."
The Mahatma was persuaded to meet Irwin and the result was the
Irwin-Gandhi pact under which the Civil Disobedience Movement was
withdrawn and a second Round Table Conference with Congress
participation was agreed upon. This peace did not last long. Gandhi
attended the Second Round Table conference in London in 1931 as the
sole representative of the Congress. He demanded control foreign and
defence affairs, and there was complete deadlock over the matter of
minorities, thanks to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, His Highness the Aga Khan
and Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Gandhi returned to India on December 28,
1931 empty handed.
By May 1934, the Civil Disobedience Movement was completely
During the second World War the Congress decided that India should
co-operate with Britain on the understanding that complete
independence be granted to India after that. The British, however,
stuck to the policy of 'no change during war and whatever you want
will be discussed after that'. This attitude did not exactly ease
the minds of the Congress members as to the intentions of the
government. Now also was visible a wide open split between Jinnah's
Muslim League and the Congress' aims and demands. Early in 1940 Jinah
declared Pakistan as the goal of the league.
After the fall of France in 1940, Gandhi declared, "We do not
seek independence out of Britain's ruin." The British reply to
this was an offer that an Indian constituent assembly as well as
Dominion status would be discussed 'after the war'. The offer was
spurned. The result? A deadlock which was not to unlock till 1947.
Gandhi, with his usual skill for the innovative, now rallied the
country and Congress behind him with his Quit India movement. The
threat was the launch of a Civil Disobedience movement which could
have coincided with the Japanese advances from the far-east towards
India. "After all," he said, "this is open rebellion."
The movement was launched on August 8, 1942 in Bombay. Gandhi
declared: "I want freedom immediately, this very night, before
dawn, if it can be had. You may take it from me that I am not going to
strike a bargain with the Viceroy for ministers and the like...
Here is the mantra, a short one, that I give you... Do or die. We
shall either free India or die in the attempt."
Independence Was Just Ahead
From 1942 onwards it was quite clear that independence of India was
only a matter of time now.
New Delhi, the new capital of India, was hardly seven years old
then. The British did not live long in the beautiful New Delhi they
created. Thus, again fulfilling the age-old prophecy about those who
build Delhi don't live in it for long.
In 1946, Lord Mountbatten arrived in Delhi amid a buzz of political
activity. The British, following their World War II concerns, wanted
to basically wash their hands off India. Also, the Indians wanted to
get back what was rightfully theirs. However, there were too many
emotional ties - the British and the Indians went too far back
together for the British to just pack up and leave. They had a
responsibility. Unfortunately Mountbatten, although a favorite with
the Indians because of his youthful good looks, was the wrong man for
the job. He was in such a hurry to get back to England that he seemed
to just go along with the first proposal that found favor with both
the Congress and the Muslim League without taking into account what
the people really wanted.
Partition of India
The rest is history. Partition, one of the worst mass movements of
people in recent history after that of the Jews in the World War II,
happened. Two republics were born from one nation on August 15, 1947 -
Pakistan and India.
Gandhi, the father of the nation, did not join the celebration that
followed. He was in Bihar working in riot torn areas, praying for
peace. For him independence, in the shape that it came, meant failure.
With this in mind, Gandhi withdrew from active politics.
Accusations by Hindu fundamentalists that he had sided with the
Muslims in giving away Pakistan too easily dogged Gandhi since the day
the state of Pakistan was declared. On January 30, 1948, a Hindu
fundamentalist called Nathu Ram Godse shot and killed the man who was